European Sponsorship Association – Dollars and Sense

Sitting in my lovely new office, my living room, I got comfy for the ESA hosted webinar, Dollars and Sense – the state of the sponsorship industry in the new decade earlier this week. Despite being based on research undertaken among members last year to highlight the trends emerging in sponsorship, it proved quite aptly named and timed. Andy Westlake, ESA’s chairman hosted, and guests included Andy Milnes, Head of Client Services at Neilsen and Tom Greenwood, Head of Partnerships and Activation at the Premier League. 


And while it’s impossible to ignore Covid 19 and the global havoc it’s wreaking, the overall message from the webinar was positive and quite uplifting. Sponsorship continues to grow and European spend last year had increased to just in excess of 30 billion euro. And while 85% of this is in the sports field with football alone accounting for 66%, the research unearthed new and exciting growth areas where sponsorship is becoming part of the landscape. 


Andy Westlake kicked off with the top ten trends that emerged from their research. The key trends are sustainability, fan engagement, measurement, digital innovation and data. Hardly surprising these top the list, as sponsorship revenue continues to grow, in fact by 1.8% since 2018. Brands are demanding ever more bang for their buck with regards to measuring the value of their investment, while the Greta Thunberg ripple effect continues to prick the conscience of so many companies who now want to be seen as a friend of the planet, helping to fight the good fight to save it. 


And while sponsorship of women in sport and entertainment is seeing quite an increase, esport has featured for the first time as brands begin to dip their toe in the water of this emerging and rapidly growing trend. In fact CS:GO with 1.1 million concurrent online users right now is hitting a new peak every few days and the Bahrain Grand Prix was recently taken online and while exposure for sponsors is still limited in this field it’s proving an innovative way of reaching a new audience. Andy Milne’s research certainly backed this up with gaming/esports accounting for 1% of the sponsorship spend. Interestingly it would appear though that with these small deals increasing, 67% in deals under 1 million euro since 2010, and big deals getting bigger, up 23% since 2010, there is a squeeze on deals between 1-10 million euro. 


Certain trends are seeing themselves thrust into the spotlight during our current crisis. Digital transformation and innovation were identified as a key trend for this new decade however, there is currently an explosion of brands scrambling to get content online to connect with their audience which may well see this grow much quicker than expected, as Joe Wicks daily exercise routine for kids drawing 1 million views each morning demonstrates. Brand Purpose is also proving itself very key as people are taking note of those who are behaving badly. Sports Direct received a wave of criticism for refusing to close while Pret offering free coffees and discounts to NHS staff will no doubt endear them to a new generation of coffee drinkers. 


Tom Greenwood said while the industry may currently be on pause due to the cancellation of all events and venues, once we know what things look like in a couple of months then the solutions will come, there is an expected bounce for sponsorship once we get back to normal with many events anticipated to take place in the latter part of the year. And as Sport, Entertainment and the Arts bring so much joy, there will definitely be a need for that.